1902 Encyclopedia > Billiards


BILLIARDS is a well-known indoor game of skill played on a rectangular table with ivory balls, which are driven into pockets and against each other according to certain defined rules. Of the origin of billiards comparatively little is known,--some considering that the game was invented by the French, and others that it was improved by them out of an ancient German diversion. Even the French themselves are doubtful on this point; for , while it is generally asserted that Henrique Devigne, and artist, who lived in the reign of Charles IX., gave form and rule to the pastime, the Dictionnaire Universel and the Académie des Jeux ascribe its invention to the English. Boullet in the first work says—"Billiards appear to be derived from the game of bowls. It was anciently known in England, where, perhaps, it was invented. It was brought into France buy Louis XIV., whose physician recommended this exercise." In the other work quoted we read—"It would seem that the game was invented in England." Strutt, a rather doubtful authority, notwithstanding the reputation attained by his Sports and Pastinean of the People of England, considers it probable that it was the ancient game of Paille-maille on a table instead of on the ground or floor,--an improvement, he says "which answered two good purposes: it precluded the necessity of the player to kneel or stoop exceedingly when he struck the bowl, and accommodated the game to the limits of a chamber." Whatever its origin its origin, and whatever the manner in which it was originally played, it is certain that it was common in the time of Shakespeare, who makes Cleopatra, in the absence of Antony, invite her attendant to join in the pastime—

"Let us to billiards:
Come, Charmian." -- Ant. and Cleo. Act. ii. sc. 5.

Billiards was originally played, it seems in a method even now adopted in the rustic game of Rural Billiards, by driving a ball through a ring which revolved on a pin or stick fixed to the table or floor. In Cotton’s Compleat Gamester, published in 1674, we are told that this "most gentile, cleanly, and ingenious game" was first played in Italy, though in another page he mentions Spain as its birthplace, At that date billiards mush have been well enough known, for we are told that "for the excellency of the recreation, it is much approved of and played by most nations of Europe, especially in England, there being few towns of note therein which hat not a public billiard table, neither are they wanting in may noble and private families in the country." Since Cotton every compiler of books on games has had more or less to say about billiards; though, curiously enough, Hoyle, who is often quoted as an authority make no mention whatever of the game. It is only in the later editions and continuations of Hoyle that billiards, bagatelle, crickets, &c., find place. It is not, indeed, till our own days that anything like a scientific treatise on billiards has appeared, or that the game itself has been lifted out of the tavern—whence, in spite of its historians’ praises, it gradually descended—to its present more favoured position as a harmless and amusing indoor game.

The Table.—The shape of the table has varied from time to time, probably to suit the dimensions of the room in which it was placed. At first it was square, with a hole or pocket at each corner to receive the balls driven forward with a cue or mace; then it was lengthened and provided with two other pockets; and occasionally it has been made round, oval, triangular, or octagonal, with or without pockets according to the game required. The cannon game in France is played on a pocketless table 8 feet by 4 ; the same game of the United States is played on a table 10 feet by 6, commonly made without pockets; but in England the regular table of the clubs and public rooms is a massive structure of timber, with a bed or surface of slate or metal 12 feet long by 6 feet wide, or two equal square of 5 feet 10_ inches across within the cushions. It is covered by a fine green cloth, and surrounded by elastic India-rubber cushions, at the junctions of which are netted pockets—one at each corner, and one midway at each of the longer sides. The table must be perfectly level and sufficiently firm to prevent vibration; and its usual height from the floor to the surface is 3 feet. The space required between table and wall is at least four feet. Smaller tables for use in private houses lately been introduced. Whether large or small, each table is provided with a baulk line and semicircle and several marks or spots to regulate the mode of play. The baulk line is drawn straight across the table 28 inches from the bottom or lower cushion, and from it is struck a semicircle of from 21 to 23 inches in diameter. In the middle of the baulk line is the baulk spot, and in the middle of the table the centre spot. Thirteen inches from the top cushion is the red-ball spot, and half-way between the centre and the top cushion is the pyramid spot,--all these spots being on a line which, if drawn from end to end, would divide the table into oblong halves.

Games.—The principal games are three in number,--billiards proper, pyramids, and pool; and from these spring a variety of others. The object of the player in each game, however, is to drive one or other of the balls into one or other of the pockets, or to cause the striker’s ball to come into successive contact with two other balls. The one stroke is known as a hazard, the other as a cannon; and from hazards and cannons, together with misses, forfeitures, and foul strokes are reckoned the points of the game. When the ball is forced into a pocket the stroke is called a winning hazard; when the striker’s ball falls into a pocket after contact with the object ball, the stroke, is a losing hazard; and these hazards count two or three to the player’s score according as they are made from the white or the red ball—two points for the white three for the red. Two points are scored for the cannon, three for a coup—a term used when the player’s ball runs into pocket without striking a ball; and one point for a miss, whether given purposely or accidentlly. These strokes are all made with a cue, which is a long stick of ash, or other hard wood, gradually tapering to the end, which is tipped with leather and rubbed with chalk to prevent it slipping off the surface of the ball struck. The mace or hammer-headed cue, once common, is no longer used, even by ladies. The cue is taken in the right hand, generally between the fingers and thumb, and not grasped in the palm; and with the left hand the player makes a bridge, by resting the wrist and the tips of the fingers on the table, arching the latter, and extending the thumb in such a way as to allow a passage in which the cue may slide. The player then proceeds with his game according, to the following rules:--

Billiards proper, or the English game, consists of winning and losing hazards, cannons, and forfeitures. It is usually played 50 or 100 points, reckoned as already explained, three for each red hazard, two for each white hazard, and two for each cannon. Public matches between adepts are played 100, 500, or 1000 up, but the rules which govern them are the same. The remarks within brackets are explanatory.—1. The game of billiards proper commences by stringing for the lead and choice of balls. [The players standing behind the baulk line, strike each a ball from the semicircle up to the top cushion, and he whose ball on its return stops nearest the bottom cushion has the choice of lead and balls.] 2. The red ball is placed on the spot at the commencement of the games, and replaced when is pocketed or forced over the table. ["Breaking the balls" is the replacing them as at the beginning of a game. The balls are said to be "broken" when the first player has struck the red or given a miss; and the player’s ball when off the table is said to be "in hand."] 3. The player who makes one stroke in a game must finish that game or consent to lose it. [Intended to meet cases of dispute.] 4. In the case of foul strokes, the adversary has the option of either allowing the striker to proceed, of having the ball replaced, or of breaking the balls. No score can be reckoned for a foul stroke. [The following are foul strokes:--If the player move a ball in the act of striking; if he play with the wrong ball; if he touch a ball twice in making a stroke; if he play at a ball while it is running; if he touch a ball with his hand, cue, or person, otherwise than is necessary for the stroke; if he in any way touch his opponent’s ball.] 5. If the adversary neglect to observe or to claim a foul stroke, the player proceeds with his game, and all the points he makes are marked. 6. If a ball spring from the table and hit a bystander, so as to prevent it falling to the floor, it is considered off the table. [The penalty in such a case is that the other qqwplayer goes on, or if the ball has not struck another ball before flying off the table, the loss of three points, as for a coup.] 7. Balls lying within the baulk line cannot be played at with a ball in hand, except the player whose ball is in hand first play at a cushion beyond or outside the baulk line. 8. A line-ball cannot be played at by the striker whose ball is in hand, other than by playing his ball out of baulk-against a cushion. [A line-ball is when the centre of the ball’s surface lies exactly on the line across the table. The marker or umpire must decide as to whether such ball is within or without the line.] 9. A ball in hand striking a ball in baulk without having been first played out of baulk, must be replaced and played over again. 10. All misses must be given with the point of the cue. [This rule is sometimes neglected, and the player allowed to give his miss with the butt end of this cue.] 11. Should the spot be occupied so that the red ball cannot be placed on it after being pocketed, it must be placed on the centre spot, or, if that also be occupied, on the pyramid spot. [In some clubs the custom is to place the red ball on the centre spot, or on the baulk line spot, according to agreement.] 12. No points are reckoned for a ball or balls forced off the table after contact with the object-ball, and the adversary goes on without breaking the balls. 13. If the balls be changed in the course of play, no cannon or hazard made with such changed ball can be scored; the balls must be broken, and all points made with the wrong ball deducted from the striker’s score. [In such case, however, the adversary has the privilege of playing with the changed ball, of re-changing the balls and playing on from their respective positions, or of having the balls broken.] 14. The player whose ball is in hand cannot score, unless he play his ball out of baulk before striking the object-ball. [In such case the stroke must be remade.] 15. If in drawing back his cue from a ball on the brink of a pocket the striker hole his ball, he losses three points, as for a coup. 16. A ball accidently moved by the marker or a looker-on must be replaced. 17. A ball willfully removed or obstructed in its course causes the loss of the offender’s game. 18. If the striker’s ball lei touching his opponent’s ball, or the red ball, no score on that side can follow. [After the stroke the next player proceeds with his game, either by breaking the balls, or playing from the spot where his ball stopped. When balls touch, the player may either run into a pocket, or play on to a third ball; then the red is spotted and the adversary plays on from baulk; or if the first player fail to do either, the balls remain as they fall, and the other goes on.]

These, with exception of some remarks about the conduct of strangers, the payment of wagers, and so on, are the rules by which the English game so of billiards is universally governed. The principal modifications of this game are the four-handed game, which is ordinary billiards by four players in sides of two, each player being allowed to instruct his partner; à la royale, game of three; the white winning game, consisting entirely of winning hazards; the white losing game; the red winning game; the red losing game; the cannon game; and the American game. This last is played with four balls, two white and two coloured, and consists entirely of winning hazards and cannons. There is also a Russian game, called carline or caroline, not unlike American billiards; a German game, Wurst-partie, in which a certain number of balls are placed in a row across the table; the Spanish, or skittle game, which the Germans call Kugel-partie; and French billiard or the cannon game formerly universal on the Continent, and now very popular in the United States, where the best players Frenchmen or men of French extraction. Of these games, however, it is unnecessary to speak, as they are all much inferior to billiards, and can be easily played by any one familiar with the established English game. The lesser varieties of billiards—choice of balls, in which each player selects the ball he plays with; bricole, in which the player strikes his ball against a cushion and endeavours to reach his opponent’s ball from the rebound; bar-hole, so called from a pocket or pockets being barred or stopped for one of the players; one pocket to five; winning against losing; the nomination game, which is ordinary billiards, in which the player is obliged to name his stroke before attempting it, and failing to make it gains nothing, or gives unnamed connons and hazards to his opponent; the commanding game; the go-back game, which is played by any adept against a tyro, the latter scoring all he makes and the former going back to nothing every time his adversary make a winning or losing hazard;--all these are so barren of interest and so seldom played as barely to deserve mention.

As to the science of the game, there is really little to be taught in books ; practice and instruction from an adept will better enlighten a tyro as to the mysteries of the side-stroke, the drag, the screw, the following ball, the spot-stroke, &c., than any amount of verbal explanation. It may, however, be as well to refer briefly to these several points, in order to render this notice as complete as the space at command will admit.

The side-stoke is made by striking the object-ball on the side with the point of the cue. The effect of such a mode of striking the ball is to make it travel to the right or to left, according as it is struck with a winding or slightly circular motion; and its purpose is to cause the ball to proceed in a direction more or less slanting than is usual, or ordinary, when the ball is struck in or about the centre of its circumference. Many hazards and cannons, quite with ease and certainty by the side-stroke. In the hands of a dexterous player this stroke is both elegant and effective. The screw or twist, is made by striking the ball low down, with a sharp, sudden blow. According as the ball is struck nearer and nearer to the cushion, it stops dead at the point of concussion with the object ball, or recoils by a series of reverse revolutions, in the manner familiar to the schoolboy in throwing forward a hoop, and causing it to return to his hand by the twist given to its firs impetus. The following-ball is made by striking the ball high, with a flowing or following motion of the cue. Just as the low-stroke impedes the motion of the ball, the follow expedites it. In the drag the ball is struck low without the sudden jerk of the screw, and with less than the onward push of the follow. The spot-stroke is a winning hazard made by pocketing the red ball in one of the corners from the spot. The great art is, first to make sure of the hazard, and next, to leave the striking ball in such a position as to enable the player to make a similar stroke in one or other of the corner pockets. To such perfection has the spot-stroke been brought, that the winning hazard has been repeated more than two hundred and fifty times consecutively. W. Cook, the finest of English players, on November 29, 1873, in a game with the ex-champion, Joseph Bennett, made a break of 936, the longest on record. In this great performance Cook made, in all, no fever than 292 spot-hazards, 260 of which were made consecutively. John Roberts, jun., of Manchester, has also made an extraordinary break, 800, the majority by the spot-stroke. Without the spot-hazard, the longest break hitherto made is probably less than 260.

The perfection of billiards is to be found in the nice combination of the various strokes, in such fashion as to leave the balls in a favourable position after each individual hazard and cannon; and this perfection can only be attained by the most constant and unremitting practice.

Pyramids is played by two or four persons—in the latter case in sides, two and two. It is played with fifteen balls, placed close together in the form of a triangle or pyramid, with the apex towards the players, and a white striking ball. The centre of the apex ball covers the second or pyramid spot, and the balls forming the pyramid should lie in a compact mass, the base in a straight line with the cushion.

Pyramids is a game entirely of winning hazards, and he who succeeds in pocketing the greatest number of balls wins. Usually the pyramid is made of fifteen red or coloured balls, with the striking ball white. This white ball is common to both players. Having decided on the lead, the first player, placing his ball in the baulk-semicircle, strikes it up to the pyramid, with a view either to lodge a ball in a pocket or to get the white safely back into baulk. Should he fail to pocket a red ball, the other player goes on and strikes the white ball from the place at which it stopped. When either succeeds in making a winning hazard, he plays at any other balls he chooses, and continues his break till he ceases to score; and so the game is continued by alternate breaks until the last red ball is pocketed. The game is commonly played for a stake upon the whole, and a proportionate sum upon each ball or life,--as, for instance, 3s. game, and 1s. balls. The players wins a life by pocketing a red ball or forcing it over the table; and loses a life by running his own, the white, ball into a pocket, missing the red balls, or intentionally giving a miss. In this game the baulk is no protection; that is to say, the player can pocket any ball wherever it lies, either within or without the baulk line, and whether the white be in hand or not. This liberty is a great and certain advantage under many circumstances, especially in the hands of a good player. It is not a very uncommon occurrence for an adept to pocket six or eight balls in a single break. Both Cook and Roberts have been known, indeed, to pocket the whole fifteen. If four persons play at pyramids, the rotation is decided by chance, and each plays alternately,--partners, as in billiards, being allowed to advise each other, each going on an continuing to play as long as he can, and ceasing when he misses a hazard. Foul strokes are reckoned as in billiards, except as regards balls touching each other. If two balls touch, the player proceeds with his game and scores a point for every wining hazard. When all the red balls but one are pocketed, he who made the last hazard plays with the white and his opponent with the red; and so on alternately, till the game terminates by the holeing of one or other ball. The pyramid balls are usually a little smaller than the billiard balls; the former are about 2 inches in diameter, the latter 2 1/16 inches to 2 1/8 inches.

Losing Pryamids, seldom played, is the reverse of the last-named game, and consists of losing hazards, each player using the same striking ball, and taking a ball from the pyramid for every losing hazard. As in the other game, the baulk is no protection. Another variety of pyramids is known as Shell-out, a game at which any number of persons may play. The pyramid is formed as before, and the company play in rotation. For each winning hazard the striker receives from each player a small stake, and for each losing hazard he pays a like sum, till the game is concluded by pocketing the white or the last coloured ball.

Pool, a game which may be played by two or more persons, consists entirely of winning hazards. Each player subscribes a certain stake to form the pool, and at starting has three chances or lives. He is then provided with a coloured or numbered ball, the game commences thus:--The white ball is placed on the spot and the red is played at it from the baulk semicircle. If the player pocket the white he receives the price of a life from the owner of the white; but if he fail, the next player, the yellow, plays on the red; and so on alternately till all have played, or till a ball be pocketed. When a ball is pocketed the striker plays on the ball nearest his own, and goes on playing as long as he can score.

The order of play is usually as follows:--The white ball is spotted; red plays upon white ; yellow upon red; then blue, brown, green, black, an spot-white follow in the order of succession named, white playing on spot-white. The order is similar for a larger number, but it is not common for more than seven or eight to join in a pool. The player wins a life for every ball pocketed, and receives the sum agreed on for each life from the owner of that ball. He loses a life to the owner of the ball he plays on and misses; or by making a losing hazard after striking such ball; by playing at the wrong ball; by running a coup; or by forcing his ball over the table. Rules governing the game provide for many other incidents. A ball in baulk may be played at by the striker whose ball is in his hand. If the striker’s ball angled—that is, so placed in the jaws of the pocket as not to allow him to strike the previously-played ball—he may have at the balls except his own and the object ball removed from the table to allow him to try bricole from the cushion. In some clubs and public rooms an angled ball is allowed to be moved an inch or two from the corner; but with a ball so removed the player must not take a life. When the striker loses a life, the next in rotation plays at the ball nearest his own; but if the player’s ball happen to be in hand, he plays at the ball nearest to the centre spot on the baulk line, whether it be in or out of baulk. In such a case the striker can play from any part of the semicircle. Any ball lying in the way of the striker’s ball, and preventing him from taking fair aim and reaching the object-ball, must be removed, and replaced, and replaced after the stroke. If there be any doubt as to the nearest ball, the distance must to measured by the marker or umpire; and if the distance be equal, the ball to be played upon must be decided by chance. If the striker first pocket the ball he plays on and then runs his own into a pocket, he losses a life to the player whose ball he pocketed, which ball is then to be considered in hand. The first player who loses all his three lives can "star;" that is, by paying into the pool a sum equal to his original stake, he is entitled to as many lives as the lowest number on the marking board. Thus if the lowest number be two, he stars two; if one, he stars one. Only one star is allowed in a pool; and when there are only two players left in, no star can be purchased. The price of each life must be paid by the player losing it, immediately after the stroke is made; and the stake or pool, is finally won by the player who remains longest in the game. In the event, however, of two players last left in the pool having an equal number of lives, they may either play for the whole or divide the stake. The latter, the usual course, is followed except when the combatants agree to play out the game. When three players are left, each with one life, and the striker makes a miss, the two remaining divide the pool without a stroke—this rule being intended to meet the possible case of two players combining to take advantage of a third. When the striker has to play, he may ask which ball he has to play at, and if being wrongly informed he plays at the wrong ball, he does not lose a life. In clubs and public rooms it is usual for the marker to call the order and rotation of play: "Red upon white, and yellow’s your player;" and when a ball has been pocketed, the fact is noticed—"Brown upon blue, and green’s your player, in hand;" and so on till there are only two or three players left in the pool.

There are some varieties of the game which need brief mention.
Single Pool is the white winning hazard game, played for a stake and so much for each of three or more lives. Each person has a ball, usually white and spot-white. The white is spotted, and the other plays on it forms the baulk semicircle; and then each plays alternately, spotting his ball aftermaking a hazard. For each winning hazard the striker receives a life; for each losing hazard he pays a life; and the taker of the three lives wins the game. No stars is allowed in single pool. The rules regulating pool are observed.

Nearest Ball Pool is played by any number of persons with the ordinary coloured balls, and in the same order of succession. All the rules of pool are followed, except that the baulk is a protection. The white is spotted, and the red plays on it; after that each striker plays upon the ball nearest the upper or outer side of the baulk line; but if all the balls lie within the baulk line, and the striker’s ball be in hand, he must play up to the top cushion, or place his ball on the spot. If his ball be not in hand, he plays at the nearest ball, wherever it may lie.

Black or Everlasting Pool is played by any number of persons in the ordinary way, except that the game is for lives only, without a subscribed stake. After the coloured balls are distributed a black ball is placed on the centre spot. At this the first striker plays. Any player, having pocketed a coloured ball, may play at the black; and if he succeed in holing it, he receives not only the life he took from the coloured ball, but the value of a life from each player. On the contrary, if he make a losing hazard off the black ball, miss it, or force own ball or off the table, he pays a life to each player. No ball can be removed to allow the striker to play on the black, but the latter may be removed to allow the striker to play at the proper object-ball. Any person may join the pool at any time, but cannot play in that round ; and he may, on giving notice of his intention, retire at the end of a clear round, until which time his ball remains on the table, and stands its chance with the rest. The price per life is determined, as in the other pool games, previously to commencing ; and it is usual for the marker or leader of the game to notify the conclusion of each clear round.

Skittle Pool is played by any number of persons with three balls, a red and two white, and twelve skittles—ten of which are white, and two black. The skittles and balls are arranged, according to a set design, on the table, and the game is played for small stakes determined by the number of skittles knocked over, after striking at a ball. It is an amusing, but unscientific game, encumbered with rules which cannot be understood without a diagram.

Penny Pot is the last of the pool games needing notice. It is played as ordinary pool, with the same order or rotation, by any number of players. Instead, however, of subscribing for a pool, and confining each player to three lives, there is no subscribed stake, and the players play on as long as they like, a penny being paid by the owner to the taker life; winning hazards receiving, and losing hazards, misses, and coups paying ; each player proceeding in turn as in regular pool.

Further Reading
Much might be written on the scientific principles of the side-stroke, the angles of incidence and reflection, &c.; but the theories advanced on these topics would lead us farther into the region of mathematics than is necessary for a description of the several games played on the billiard table. The scientific features or billiards are discussed at more less length in several of the following works:-- Practical Treatise on the Game of Billiards, by E. White, 1807 (this was partly a translation of a French treatise, published in 1805, and partly a compilation from the article in the Académie Universelle des Jeux, issued in the same year, and since frequently re-edited and reprinted); Le Musée des Jeux, Paris, 1820; the Noble Game of Billiards, by Monsieur Mingaud, Paris, 1834; a translation of the same, by John Thurston, London, 1835; Kentfield on Billiards, London, 1839, founded principally on the foregoing works; Billiards, Game 500 up, by Edward Russell Mardon, London, 1849; Turner On Billiards, a series of diagrams with instructions, Nottingham, 1849; The Billiard Book, by Captain Crawley, London, 1866-75; Roberts On Billiards, 1868; Practical Billiards, by Fred. Hardly, edited by W. Dufton, 1867; Billiards, by Joseph Bennett, ex-champion, 1873. There are besides numerous handbooks of more or less value. (G. F. P.)

The above article was written by the Rev. George Park Fisher, D.D., LL.D.; Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Yale; author of The Reformation, History of the Christian Church, The Colonial Era, etc.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries